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Tag: Stanley Kubrick

“Interstellar”: Finding A New Telos

We’ve forgotten who we are: explorers, pioneers… not caretakers.” (Joseph Cooper)

We’ve forgotten who we are: explorers, pioneers… not caretakers. (Joseph Cooper)


There’s an unwritten rule with movies: the more you expect from one, the less you get from it. Another unwritten rule is that a remake is, in most cases, not as good as the original.

Christopher Nolan seems to be the great rule-breaker of today’s film industry. When he took on the project of salvaging the Batman franchise after Joel Schumacher had almost destroyed it (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), who could have predicted he would release a trilogy that would almost completely eclipse Tim Burton’s two first opuses (Batman and Batman Returns), which were actually really good?

When Interstellar‘s trailers started to catch my attention, and it was evident that Nolan was attempting a remake of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I thought that the stakes were too high this time. How dare Nolan challenge The Master?

Interestingly, Christopher Nolan has often been described as Kubrick’s heir, partly because of the two directors’ common propensity to cut the Gordian Knots of established filmmaking. Kubrick was one of the very first moviemakers to use a nonlinear narrative, in The Killing (1956), and Nolan went even further in Memento (2000), which recounts the fragmented story of an amnesiac whose memory is rebooted every five minutes.

The comparison between Kubrick and Nolan is even apter in the case of Interstellar. Indeed, Interstellar is more than a remake of 2001. It is 2001, only way, way better. If Kubrick was film’s Copernicus, then Nolan is its Galileo.

Before raising Radix readers’ eyebrows, I should mention that Nolan’s improvement upon Kubrick’s 1968 movie is not due to technology. Unlike many futuristic movies these days, Interstellar is two-dimensional, and though there is, of course, an important use of CGI, it is not what defines the movie (and it is worth noting that in technical terms, 2001 has aged quite well). I could go as far as saying that Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013) was graphically much more audacious than Interstellar. But it would be missing the point: though Interstellar takes place in outer space, it is not about space conquest. Much like 2001, Interstellar is about biological evolution, the meaning of human existence, Mankind’s destiny, and God.

And though there is an important reflection on artificial intelligence in Interstellar, supercomputers are here reduced to the status of farm animals. There is no equivalent of “HAL,” arguably 2001‘s central character.

The prominence of humans in the scenario made the casting a matter of ultimate importance. Whereas the actors of 2001 could easily have been replaced with others, Matthew McConaughey’s performance in Interstellar already is, and will remain indispensable.

Though not as famous as Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception), and still mostly known for starring in a string of interchangeable “rom-coms,” McConaughey has recently proven as a man of both wit and emotional depth. With only a few minutes of screen time in Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, released last Winter, McConaughey managed to play the movie’s most famous scene with a simple “money mantra” (or whatever it’s supposed to be).

McConaughey also appeared on TV this year. In HBO’s True Detective, he plays officer Rust Cohle. Down in Louisiana’s post-industrial rubble, he and detective Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) are investigating a series of murders committed by the local elite in a ritual, Satanic fashion, leading some website editors to analyze True Detective as a “conspiracy theory” series. Commenting on the “tomb of the American Dream” he and Hart have to muddle through, Rust Cohle has some lines that echo those of Nolan’s comic-book heroes and villains: “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”

In Interstellar, McConaughey, starring as Joseph Cooper, doesn’t fail to provide the spectator with catchy lines. But before I start quoting, perhaps some contextual elements are in order.

The story takes place in the United States, or rather what used to be the United States. Joseph Cooper, a former engineer and pilot who had to retire after a crash, is now growing corn to provide for his two kids and his father-in-law. Cooper’s wife died a few years before the story begins. She had a tumor that, had it been diagnosed in time, would have been curable. But the lack of proper medical devices and qualified physicians sealed her fate.

Cooper was wise enough to plant corn instead of wheat, corn being (for now) the only crop which resists a blight that is ravaging plantations.

The earth, both with a small and a capital “e,” is dying. The rotting plants turn into dust, which, due to frequent windstorms, makes it harder and harder for people to breathe. Field fires are commonplace. Harvests hardly reach survival levels. Apocalypse has come, not with a bang but with a whimper.

Though early 21st-century technological devices keep being used as long as they work, civilization has globally reverted to a pre-Industrial Revolution level: most human activity is oriented towards food production. Cooper’s elder son, Tom, whose intelligence is only slightly above-average, will have to study how to grow corn in high school. More and more, boys learn their fathers’ trade, as it used to be before the 19th and 20th centuries’ division of labor.

Cooper’s daughter, Murph, is much more like her father. She seems to be endowed with a kind of “shine” that allows her to feel a part of reality that the five senses cannot detect. Unlike her brother, she knows that “something is wrong” in the present state of affairs. She doesn’t live by the rules, because she feels that rules are dooming her family. Though—or rather because—her intelligence is vastly above-average, she has troubles with her teachers at school. On her spare time, she tries to figure out what “ghosts” want to communicate to her. Although Cooper doesn’t believe his daughter’s “ghosts” stories, he supports her in her personal experiments. One day, she detects a signal that resembles geographical coordinates.

Cooper, who has noticed anomalies in his automatic ploughing machines’ functioning, believes it is due to a magnetic field, whose center has been located by Murph. He decides to go there, and his disobedient daughter manages to hide in his pickup truck and go with her father. (Promethean Nolan likely means that all evolutionary leaps are made by rebels, like Columbus in his time.)

It turns out that the mysterious site is nothing less than a covert NASA base. Once the pride of the world, NASA has gone underground since government credits have been cut in favor of agriculture. (But as “Paul Kersey” wrote, in today’s “real world,” space conquest has been abandoned to the benefit of “Diversity.” At least humans in Interstellar have the excuse of starvation.)

In a very short-sighted manner, what remains of the government thinks that Mankind’s dire situation justifies that “frivolities” like space exploration make way to more essential endeavors like farming. (History school books are orwellianly rewritten to describe Apollo 11 as a hoax.)

Slipping the “Surly Bonds of Earth”

Here I am reminded of an episode from TV animated series Archer. In the twelfth episode of the third season, Commander Tony Drake (with Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston’s exalted voice) explains to curvy quadrooness Lana why space colonization is the right answer to “here and now” problems:

Drake: You think space exploration is a boondoggle?!
Lana: Well, come on, in this economy?!
Drake: Exactly! Now, more than ever, is when we need to look to space for the solutions to Mankind’s problems. In just two hundred years, Earth’s population will exceed her capacity to produce enough food. And even as the famines begin, global war will erupt as fresh water becomes scarcer than gold. But if we begin now, using the lessons learned aboard Space Station Horizon, a small group of brave colonists can terraform Mars. And Mankind can finally slip the surly bonds of Earth, to live forever… AMONG THE STARS!!!

“Slipping the surly bonds of Earth” is exactly what Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a NASA researcher, has to offer Cooper. Brand wants Cooper to lead an expedition with Brand’s daughter (Ann Hathaway) to a black hole located near Saturn’s rings (which is reminiscent of 2001‘s black monolith revolving around Jupiter). Beyond this black hole is another stellar system, in a faraway galaxy, with three planets apparently similar to Earth both in gravity and atmosphere composition. The expedition’s mission is to find out whether one of these exoplanets can be terraformed.

Cooper faces Ulysses’ dilemma. Should he stay in Ithaca or should he go conquer Troy? And Penelope’s dead anyway. As painful as it is for him to leave his children and his home, Cooper decides to go. He begs his daughter to forgive him and explains to her that he has to live at last. To live, that is, to exist beyond food, shelter, and reproduction. To put the Greater Good above one’s family’s interests (or rather to understand that the latter depends on the former). To follow one’s Destiny, even if said Destiny is tragic. And, for those who have that rare power, to bring Mankind to a higher level of consciousness, mastery, and being.

Cooper knows when he leaves that his chances of seeing his family again are very thin. Not only is the journey long and dangerous, but spacetime is different on the three exoplanets: one hour there amounts to seven years on Earth.

Which means that the expedition, named Lazarus after the Christian saint who came back from the dead, is a race against time. Even if Cooper manages to make it, he might be back when there’s nothing left to save on Earth (a little like in the first Planet of Apes). And, of course, when his kids are dead.

But he accepts the challenge, which appears to be Mankind’s last chance. Pr. Brand informs Cooper that corn will also die out eventually. Even worse, the Noah’s Ark-like vessel ready to follow Cooper’s pioneer expedition is, for now, too heavy to overcome Earth’s gravity.

NASA’s calculation is that Cooper will get back when the scientists on Earth have managed to make the vessel fly, due to the spacetime difference between the two stellar systems.

If this “Plan A” doesn’t work, they’ll turn to “Plan B”: a light shuttle with fertilized eggs aboard will leave with a few colonists to the New Earth; the rest of Mankind will be left to die. (I wonder what will annoy conservatives most this time: surrogate motherhood or the idea that not all human lives have the same value?) Thanks to these eggs, a new Mankind will be recreated. As Brand puts it, “We must think not as individuals but as a species.”

Later in the movie, Cooper will throw the line that prompted me to write this review: “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”

A Philosophical Challenge to Identitarians

Interstellar is problematic for Identitarians, who follow two simple principles: Blood and Soil. If the former is only shaken by Nolan (more on that below), the latter is completely crushed by the British Faust.

Indeed, space conquest means that Man will not dance around the same wooden totem pole for Eternity like Hobbits, which Identitarianism often boils down to.

But I think Instellar is a challenge rather than a stop sign to Identitarians, at least for (Pan-)European ones. As I mentioned in my debut article at Alternative Right (my very first article in the English language, by the way), this “Let’s do as our ancestors have always done” motto may suit Indian tribes, but it is unworthy of Sons of Europa, whether the “European New Right,” which is neither European in spirit nor New nor even right-wing, likes it or not. “We are the heirs of conquerors,” fellas. Our distant ancestors had to “slip the surly bonds” of the Pontic steppe so they could reach a higher stage of evolution in their millenial upward journey.

Of all people, Americans should understand that reality better than any of their European brothers, which is actually the reason why I decided to “slip the surly bonds” of my beloved Hexagone two years ago (which answers the usual question I’m asked: “Why are you doing all this?”; that’s why).

The real founding of America—when the Mayflower left Plymouth, not when the “Holy Scrap” was written down—is not even four centuries old, a period of time, in strictly evolutionary terms, that’s merely a blink-of-an-eye.

If evolution keeps its course (I think it will), there will be a Mayflower spaceship someday. Let’s just hope that it won’t be crammed with Puritans.

As for the “Blood” part of the Identitarian motto, it is also challenged by Nolan, but in a more subtle way. Viewers will have noticed that the Lazarus expedition comprises one Black man, and a woman whose name could be Jewish. Well, call me a “race traitor” (but again, traitors are firstly those who betray Europa’s spirit) if you will, but I didn’t hide under my seat in terror. Let’s not forget that Art shouldn’t be confused with Politics, something the Right has never understood, and the Left less and less understands, which is why its works of art are getting embarrassing.

The second reason why I don’t mind seeing non-Whites in a European expedition is because as Oswald Spengler put it, “those who talk too much about race no longer have it in them.” What is more traitorous: non-Whites appearing in a clearly European movie, or great-grandsons of Acheans, Romans, Franks, and Vikings placing their hopes in this or that model of car?

(“Both are equally abhorrent” is an easy, common, but… wrong answer.)

There are, in my opinion, two competing strains of Identitarianism, whose opposition can be summed up thusly:

“What is Mine is Fine” VS. “What is Fine is Mine”

(Due to Prince Harold’s history-shifting shipwreck on Picardy’s shores and the Battle of Hastings that ensued, the rhyme also works in French: “Ce qui est mien est bien” VS. “Ce qui est bien est mien.”)

I explained that in an interview at AltRight with Alexander Forrest:

We can recognize the various strengths of [other] civilizations and take inspiration from the noble and inventive things they engendered. That is exactly what the West used to do best. To use a very basic example… the Arabs produced coffee long before the West adopted it and transplanted it to the Americas. Today, the most refined coffee is brewed in Italy. It is the essence of our civilization to take what is best in other civilizations and improve upon it.

The worst aspect of “Blood and Soil” rigidity is that it deprives those who stick to it of a telos, of a final cause that would transcend their individual lives and therefore enable them to pass their dreams down to their descendants, until the time when these dreams can be put to practice.

I believe such a dream should be space conquest. I obviously won’t live it, nor will my children, and I don’t think my grandchildren or even my great-grandchildren will. And therefore, in the meantime, a European Home should be established so as to make the carrying out of this dream possible and even thinkable (the rewriting of history books about Neil Armstrong’s giant leap is one of Interstellar‘s most important scenes).

But this European Home would’t be sustainable—it wouldn’t even see the light of day, since its founding is, in itself, a project involving several generations from conception to realisation and therefore requires transcendence to survive the bite of time—if there wasn’t an idea bigger than us, an idea that will mean the same thing in one century as it now does. It is time we cultivate this idea instead of doing as if it was still “five to midnight” and we had to “act before it’s too late.”

It is not five to midnight. It is five past midnight. The night is still dark and cold. Predators of many kinds prowl around the camp. Ghastly screams echo in the void. Waiting for the Dawn, torch-bearing guards keep the fence, and poets recount glorious tales around the fire, while everybody looks to the stars.

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Steven Spielberg’s Masterpiece of Kitsch

A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a film that suffers from some of the worst tendencies of the schmaltzy and declining Steven Spielberg. I will contend, nevertheless, that this cryptic work is, in its way, one of the most ambitious and disturbing efforts of two cinematic masters.

The film A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), a Stanley Kubrick conception that was midwifed into existence by Steven Spielberg after the former’s passing, was met with favorable, though mixed reviews upon its release. American moviegoers, probably expecting the kinder, gentler fare more characteristic of Spielberg’s defining works, were often nonplussed by what many found to be an odd and gloomy film. A.I. has, to a large extent, been forgotten, by both fans of Spielberg and Kubrick. Generally, I can’t disagree with this popular consensus; A.I. is an odd film, indeed. It is flawed in execution and suffers from some of the worst tendencies of the schmaltzy and declining Spielberg. I will contend, nevertheless, that this cryptic work is, in its way, one of the most ambitious and disturbing efforts of two cinematic masters.

Released in 2001, A.I. was visually spectacular, and it remains one of the more successful attempts at integrating CGI with live action. The film’s deeper meaning, however, is revealed through its plotting and symbology; to understand this, one should revisit its storyline, which fluctuates between futurism and fairytale.

A.I. is set in a world where the icecaps have melted due to manmade global warming. This has caused catastrophic global flooding and changes in weather patterns. As a result, most of the important coastal cities have been lost to the advancing sea, and populations have retreated inland. These changes have also led to a dearth of resources that has annihilated Third World societies. The survivors of the First World live in a civilization that is, on the one hand, full of techno gadgets and utopian material advances and, on the other, still scared by ecological and social collapse.

To meet labor demands, Westerners have invested in the development of highly advanced robots, which require much less resource to sustain than humans. Increasingly, these robots have come to closely resemble human beings, not only in appearance but in their ability to process reality.

The film follows the travails of one particular robot, or “Mecha,” named David (who’s played by the remarkable child actor Haley Joel Osment). David is a sort of “Adam,” a prototype designed to possess a true human sentience or, as described by his creators, “the [genuine] ability to love.”

David is introduced into a human family as a surrogate child. It is a family whose only son has been rendered comatose, suffering from a seemingly incurable condition. David, as programed, develops a strong emotional attachment to his human mother, and the mother, to him. One day, the family’s human child miraculously recovers and, when he returns home, a sort of sibling rivalry ensues between robot and boy. (In this rivalry, the human boy emerges as the the real villain; David, as designed, is nothing if not guileless, innocent, and kind.)

As part of this rivalry, the human child maliciously and subtly teases David by introducing him to the fable of Pinocchio, in which a puppet is turned into a real boy by “the Blue Fairy.” A seed is planted in David’s mind, and, unable to distinguish fairytale from reality, the robot concludes that if only he could find the Blue Fairy, he could be made human—and thus be loved by his mother in the same way she loves her flesh and blood.

Eventually, David unwittingly proves himself a safety hazard to his human sibling, and the decision is made to destroy the robot. However, the mother of the family is unable to execute the plan because of David’s uncanny likeness to a real child; she instead sets him free in a nearby wood. Devastated with grief, she imparts these final words of advice: “Stay away from Flesh Fairs. Stay away from all people… . Only Mechas are safe.” (The mother seems aware of the “inhumanity” of her people when compared to the gentleness of robots.)

Abandoned and alone, David clings fast to his hope of one day becoming a real boy and returning to his mother. Hence begins David’s quest for the Blue Fairy and his journey through a human civilization in deep crisis.

Despite his human mother’s warning, David is soon captured by a wild vigilante gang of humans. He is placed in an “Anti-Mecha Flesh Fair,” an event in which obsolete and unlicensed (undocumented?) robots are destroyed on stage in front of cheering throngs of humans.

While imprisoned and awaiting destruction, the naïve David asks his fellow robots for an explanation of what is happening. “History repeats itself!” is the answer he receives from a wizened old model, who goes on to explain that their persecution is a consequence of a conflict between “electricity and blood.” Here, David also meets his companion for much of the rest of the film, “Gigolo Joe,” a robot played brilliantly by Jude Law.

The anti-Mecha humans are a vaguely Midwestern and lower-middle-class lot (the tone of the setting is like that of a Country Music concert or tractor pull). They are led by a demagogue, who tells the crowd that it is the intention of the societal elite to replace humans with ever more sophisticated robots (a fear that will be dramatically vindicated). When it is David’s turn to be liquidated, he pleas for mercy: “Don’t burn me! Don’t burn me!” Both his cries and his uncanny similarity to a real boy sway the crowd, which demands he be spared. David (along with Gigolo Joe) thus barely evade being made a holocaust in the humans’ crude ritual. In a sort of “civil rights” moment for robots, the rabble rises up against its demagogic ringleader, allowing David and Gigolo Joe an opportunity to escape the pogrom.

Mecha at the Flesh Fair Mecha at the Flesh Fair

I don’t use the word “holocaust” frivolously. Is is an ancient Biblical term meaning “a sacrificial offering that is burned completely on an altar,” and, within the context of this scene and the film, Spielberg is likely evoking images of sacrificial offerings as well as the “Holocaust” of the Second World War.

Like David, Joe was also designed as a playmate, only he is for adults. In A.I.’s version of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Rouge City,” Gigolo Joe was employed as a sex toy for lonely middle-aged women. Joe’s “game” is, of course, crass and degenerate; but Spielberg also make clear that Joe represents a kind of upgrade on humanity. In Joe’s words, “Once you’ve had a lover robot, You’ll never want a real man again.”

Joe makes a point of relating this truth to David in front of a kitschy Catholic Church ensconced in the sin of Rogue City. According to Joe, the mortal women (shiksas?) go to the Church to seek their Creator, yet when they emerge, they invariably seek out Gigolo Joe for more earthly salvation. Importantly, the reason the robotic duo had stopped in front of the church is because David mistook an image of the Virgin Mary for the magical Blue Fairy. It is a comparison, I am certain, Spielberg makes quite deliberately.

Gigolo Joe is on the run from the law and is scheduled for imprisonment (he was framed by a jealous human for the murder of one of his return clients). And his words of wisdom to David regarding humans are similar in sentiment to the advice David received from his human mother: “They hate us, you know. The humans. And will stop at nothing to destroy us.” When David insists that Joe is wrong and that his mother loves him, Joe corrects him: “She loves what you do for her. As my customers love what I do for them. But she does not love you. You are neither flesh, nor blood.”[1] Joe continues,

They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That’s why they hate us…

Despite his “sexbot” appearance, Joe makes a profound and prophetic assessment—and one that is the key to understanding A.I. The root of human hatred of robots is not so much fear as envy—envy of a superior “humanity.” Joe also foresees that the meek Mecha will inherit the earth. (Despite all this, David holds fast to the feeling that his human mother loves him and insists on continuing his quest to find the Blue Fairy.)

Later in the film, when Joe is finally captured by the authorities and being hauled away for extermination, he identifies himself, cryptically, to David: “I am.” Then, comically, as he is dragged away: “I was.” (This is not the only place in the film in which the dialogue and imagery shift away from sci-fi realism and take on a kind of fairly tale or esoteric hue.)

This expression “I am,” uttered as a self-identification, has a very specific religious meaning. It is the name that God uses to identify himself to Moses in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 3:14), and it is a frequent expression in the Torah as the name of God. The Jewish conception of God is that God is synonymous, first and foremost, with the Jewish people; hence every Jew is also God (or a part of him). Is Gigolo Joe identifying himself as a Jew? Perhaps metaphorically … unless, of course, the robots are the metaphor.

Eventually, David’s quest for the Blue Fairy ends when he encounters her in the form of a statue amid the submerged ruins of the Coney Island amusement park. There he sits in a submersible vehicle, baptized by the ocean, vainly praying to this watery siren (an “idol,” which you’ll remember, has already been explicitly compared to the Virgin Mary). Alas, his innate nature is such that a “conversion” is impossible.

David's devotion David’s devotion

Two thousand years pass—the length of time between the birth of Christ and the making of the film—and the ocean freezes around him … as he prays, endlessly, hoping to become “real.”

After the ice age, David is excavated by a race of highly evolved Mecha. They are, in fact, Mecha descended from David’s own race of robots. Two thousand years later, carbon-based civilization has been replaced by silicon. Intriguingly, much like the aliens of Close Encounters of a Third Kind, in physical form, these advanced robots tend to remind one of emaciated prison-camp inmates, with an aura of both long suffering and benevolence.

The Aliens of *Close Encounters of the Third Kind* The Aliens of *Close Encounters of the Third Kind*

Soon it is revealed that humans have gone extinct. Anti-Mecha fears and Joe’s prophecies have proven accurate. Effectively, humans birthed a species that became better than themselves through scientific (or religious and “ethical”?) development. Man lost a competition for dominance in much the same way species may develop a subspecies of itself through mutation, and then lose a struggle for survival against it.

Tapping into David’s memories, these evolved Mecha are able to recreate the setting of his human home. They are even able, at his request, to resurrect his human mother through the DNA of one of her locks of hair (which David’s teddy bear companion has preserved). The rub: she’ll only last a day, at the end of which she’ll die. In a scene suggestive of rabbinical counseling, an advanced Mecha gently explains to David the terms of this interaction before gaining his consent. The ensuing scenes, where loving mother and loving child spend their last joyous but fleeting day together, like a macabre cereal commercial, are undoubtedly Spielberg at his most mawkish and manipulative.

When the mother passes away into oblivion at the end of the day, little David lies next to her in bed (in what, in Freudian terms, could be seen as an Oedipal victory over an absent father). David drifts off to sleep, suggesting that he has finally become a real boy … a mortal … which means that he, too, will cease to exist. As the narrator describes it: “And for the first time in his life, he went to where dreams are born.”

In embracing Mother—humanity, the Blue Fairy, the Virgin Mary—David has converted to a faith that promises a selfish personal afterlife, but which will ensure he does not inherit the earth, as do others of his kind.

So what has just happened here?

Is A.I. merely another cautionary tale of technological development gone amok? Is it merely an arty variation of “robot apocalypse” movies like James Cameron’s Terminator series?[2]

Or is there, as one strongly senses, a deeper metaphor at work? Who are these manmade robots? These rejected and cast-out Golems, who—unlike the Golems of Rabbinic fables (among whom Adam and Eve are included)—prove more intelligent and divine than their creators? Who are these beings that are both irresistible saints and irresistible entertainers (and smarter, more industrious and productive workers, endlessly capable of adapting, “progressing,” and evolving)? Who are these descendants of “David,” prophesied to inherit the earth while all other nations of man are cursed by God are destroyed (and destroyed in a flood of Biblical proportions)?

And what are we to make of the striking Anglo-ness of Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment? Is this casting simply an effort to more deeply conceal an esoteric message? Or is it an abstruse form of scapegoating (much like that carried out by the Gentile Martin Scorsese in the film The Wolf of Wall Street, in which Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Jordan Belfort)? (The term “scapegoating” derives from the ancient Jewish practice of figuratively placing the sins of the tribe onto a goat and then sacrificing the animal. Thus the goat, like Christ, dies for the tribe’s sins, thereby absolving it.) Or perhaps this casting speaks to how “robots” have come to so closely resemble “humans,” though not, as we learn, in their ultimate evolution? (Or maybe Spielberg simply wanted to get butts in the seats by casting cute actors?)

Whatever the case, Spielberg (using images and ideas from Kubrick) has created a work of potentially great longevity (despite its current obscurity), largely because he has imbued A.I. with esoteric elements analogous to those in Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelung, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the ancient myths of Scandinavia, Rome, Greece, and Judea.

A.I. is certainly not high art; nevertheless, I imagine that it will have a staying power, whereas better films will prove ephemeral. After all, when one reviews the Biblical oeuvre, one is struck by the innumerable instances of crude, convoluted, unimaginative, and simply soporific tales—which have, nevertheless, remained touchstones in Jewish and Occidental cultures because they are imbedded in peoples’ ethnic and religious understandings of themselves.

In other words, Spielberg and Kubrick have created a story with an exoteric value— that is, the sci-fi, CGI-laden, sentimental “entertainment” that is consumed by the masses—and one that simultaneously carries an esoteric meaning—which speaks to those parties with ears to hear.

Kubrick decided well before his death that he would not be the director of A.I., and he considered Spielberg’s aesthetic far better suited to dealing with a child-centered story (which, as mentioned, even includes a robotic teddy-bear). Certainly, the “coldness” in much of the film (at least in comparison to Spielberg’s other offerings) would have been greatly magnified had Kubrick helmed the project (and it would have likely turned off a great deal of the movie-going public). As a director, Kubrick’s interests were never in “humanizing” protagonists; his cinematic world is one of “de-humanization,” in which landscape, color, and abstract ideas overwhelm the drama. Kubrick was also a master at wryly and caustically satirizing his protagonists’ “authoritarian personalities” (most notably in Paths to Glory, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket).

Spielberg, on the other hand, had E.T. on his résumé, the heart-warmer about a trans-galactic immigrant who was more “human” than the humans. (E.T. was also a parable, and, in retrospect, Spielberg’s rehearsal for A.I..) This was likely Kubrick’s real motivation for selecting Spielberg: to create a protagonist that audiences could feel deserved, in some way, to outlive humans. And certainly, handing the film to Spielberg gave Kubrick’s vision greater salience in the world: more eyes would see it, and thus more kindred minds might understand it. Additionally, if the film was, in fact, intended to carry the esoteric message I’ve suggested, Spielberg is a most subtle vehicle for delivering it. Kubrick is a darling of film buffs and academics, and his works are picked apart endlessly for possible esoteric meanings.[3] A Spielberg movie, on the other hand, is “just a movie,” that is, art that can be passively absorbed by audiences and critics without undergoing much deep analysis.

A.I. thus represents a rare synthesis: the originator of the film’s mythos and ideas—which are shocking and disturbing in unmediated form—had the self-awareness and honesty to hand the project off to another director who, though inferior as an artist, was much better skilled at imbuing the film with entertainment value and “innocence.” And it is fitting that Kubrick and Spielberg carried forth this work together, like Biblical scribes, as it is a story bigger than either one of them. The exoteric myth of A.I. is that of Pinocchio, the puppet who wants to become a real boy; the esoteric myth is that of Exodus, in which the Chosen People must flee a persecuting and degenerate society, which is, afterwards, destroyed by “God” or “I Am”.[4]

Those who wish for a rebirth of Occidental civilization would be wise to follow this example and learn the importance of collaboration—and of finding the right messenger. A.I. is a masterpieces of kitsch. Let us strive to make masterpieces of high art!


  1. In the midst of this tirade, one is tempted to wonder if Spielberg feels the same of his audiences, for whom he furnished entertainment, moral instruction, and enlightenment, even while, perhaps, believing himself to be envied and reviled by these very same ungrateful hypocrites.  ↩
  2. In these films, Cameron predicts that Austrian-accented Nazi robots will inherit the earth … quite a different vision to Spielberg’s!).  ↩
  3. Incidentally, A.I. compels another look at the more opaque 2001: A Space Odyssey.  ↩
  4. In this effort, Spielberg and Kubrick remind me of a less cohesive, less complementary version of the Cohen Brothers, who are, likewise, deeply convinced of shared goals and through a effective, close, and egoless collaboration have brought into the world works they feel serve a purpose larger than themselves.  ↩
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